Like most states, Kansas sets time limits for prosecutors to begin a criminal case against a suspect. These time limits—called statutes of limitations—can put an end to a case even if a defendant is guilty. This article will briefly review how criminal statutes of limitations work in Kansas.
Statutes of limitations set time limits for the government to bring criminal charges in a case. If the prosecution charges someone after the applicable time period has passed, the person charged can have the case dismissed.
In Kansas and most other states, the time limits depend on the specific crime. For instance, several violent crimes and sex offenses have long statutes of limitations or no statute of limitations—meaning a criminal case can be filed at any time. In certain instances, statutes of limitations are "tolled" (suspended), allowing the government more time to bring a case. Below we discuss specific time limits for Kansas crimes.
Lawmakers can change limitations periods. For example, they could change the statute of limitations for child sex crimes from 10 years to 25 years. But whether changes apply to past crimes depends on a couple of factors. Importantly, a new time limit created by the legislature can never apply if the prosecutor has already run out of time to file the charges. Also, some changes only apply to crimes committed after the date of the changes to the law. If you have questions regarding changes made by the Kansas Legislature, contact a criminal defense attorney.
Like many states, Kansas law sets time limits for a host of specific crimes. For crimes not specifically listed in the statute, a general statute of limitations of five years applies for all crimes (felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions).
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Kansas. Keep in mind that the following is a partial list that broadly summarizes the law. You should look at the actual law for nuances, exceptions, and legislative changes—and know that court rulings can affect the interpretation of the law.
Murder: no time limit
Manslaughter: 5 years after the crime
Vehicular homicide: 5 years after the crime
Indecent liberties or solicitation of a child: no time limit
Sexual exploitation of a child: no time limit
Child enticement: no time limit
Aggravated sexual battery of a child: no time limit
Rape: no time limit
Aggravated criminal sodomy: no time limit
Sexually violent crimes (adult victim): the later of 10 years after the crime or one year from the date the suspect's identity is conclusively established by DNA
Other sex offenses: 5 years after the crime
(Kan. Stat. § 21-5107 (2023).)
Generally, the statute of limitations starts when the crime occurs. But in circumstances where it's difficult to discover the crime or a victim might be particularly scared to report it, the law might delay the starting of the time clock or push it out. For instance, Kansas doesn't let the clock run when there's evidence showing a victim younger than 15 was too young or immature to realize a crime had been committed.
Also, if a person tries to "evade" (avoid) arrest for a crime, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Kansas, the statute of limitations is tolled:
Statutes of limitations don't necessarily prevent the prosecutor from filing charges or a conviction from being entered. It's up to the defendant to raise the issue of an expired statute of limitations with the court. A defendant who fails to raise the issue with the trial court waives (gives up) this affirmative defense. This is true whether or not the defendant knows of the defense, pleads guilty, or goes to trial. (Lowe v. State, 783 P.2d 1313 (Kan. 1989).)
Statutes of limitations are confusing, to say the least. Plus, the same conduct can be the basis for multiple criminal charges, meaning that more than one limitations period could apply. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the statutes of limitations apply in a specific case.